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“It’s all about that connection“ – An Interview with Mull Historical Society

Over the last twenty years, Mull Historical Society, a.k.a. Colin MacIntyre, has produced some fantastic albums and now they are revisiting the first three records as well as getting ready to release new music. February 24th will see a trilogy of colourful classic album reissues (‘Loss’, ‘Us’ and ‘This Is Hope’), plus a lavish 80 track media-book box set (‘Archaeology: Complete Recordings 2000-2004’). The 4 CD box set is a must for any fans of MHS with discs 1-3 featuring each album in their entirety while disc 4 compiles a trove of unreleased rarities, live tracks, demos, and covers (inc. The Strokes’ “Last Nite”, Ms Dynamite’s “It Takes More” and Radiohead’s “Motion Picture Soundtrack”). Accompanying the audio is a lovingly produced book, compiling exclusive photographs, extracts from Colin MacIntyre of MHS’s celebrated writings (inc. a preview of his new memoir ‘The Boy In the Bubble’), plus a reflective chapter on ‘Loss’ extracted from Tom Clayton’s 2022 book ‘When Quiet Was The New Loud’, and an essay from journalist Billy Sloan discussing the Mull Historical Society legacy. The 3 albums will also be reissued on limited edition vinyl for the first time since their initial release.

To date, MHS has released 8 acclaimed albums including two UK Top 20 albums, and four Top 40 singles. Colin has also collaborated with a range of artists including Irvine Welsh, Annie Lennox, Snow Patrol, King Creosote, Tony Benn (appearing in Benn’s famous Diaries) and has toured worldwide, including with REM, The Strokes, and Elbow. His debut novel ‘The Letters of Ivor Punch’ won the 2015 Edinburgh Book Festival First Book Award, and his memoir ‘Hometown Tales’ came out in 2018.

Colin has been voted Scotland’s Top Creative Talent at the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Awards, as well as one of the Greatest Scottish Artists of All Time in a public poll. As well as the reissues, there are plans for a new MHS album and a new novel to follow in 2023.

We caught up with Colin to talk about the reissued albums and how he became a award-winning author.

Hi Colin! How’s everything going right now?
Things are good thanks. I have quite the juggle on with the MHS ‘Archaeology’ Boxset and vinyl re-issues, recording the new MHS album that’s out in the summer, and also delivering my new novel, out in Oct. I’m realising more and more that creativity is like a puzzle to be solved — or maybe that’s partly influenced by the fact my new novel is Crime fiction! In any case, it is nice when a lot of the things you have been working on start to reach a potential audience. It’s all about that connection, and figuring things out.

What classic album cover is your current mood?
Oh it would have to be ‘After The Goldrush’ by Neil Young. As in, I feel a bit in focus and a bit out of focus. It is also one of my absolute faves — it was on her turntable when I first met my wife (I’d never heard it before).

You’re about to release an 80 track box set of the first 3 albums and a whole load of rarities. I can’t believe it’s over 20 years since I left Coda Records with my copy of “Loss”. What do you remember about that time and recording those records?
Yes it feels so long ago and yesterday all at once. I remember mostly that I was getting to record and produce songs the way I heard them in my head for the first time. I recorded around 30 songs for each of those first two albums so it was quite intense but hugely joyous. I’d spent my teens recording in my bedroom back in Tobermory on Mull and so I have always felt like a studio animal in a sense. It was also a hugely life-changing time for me, but in a strange way I was almost honouring the dreams of that kid in his bedroom. No matter how big the tour bus or stage, it was all a continuation creativity: that’s what always mattered to me, i.e. non of it would be happening without the music, the craft of those years put in. I remember touring with The Strokes, REM, Elbow, Polyphonic Spree, Tinderstick and more, and learning loads along the way. A lot of it is a blur, but in the writing of what became from my debut MHS single (‘Barcode Bypass’) something changed… I started to create characters in the way a novelist would, and realised that by placing myself in their shoes I could use them to tell bigger pictures about society/community/wars/Olivia Newton-John… and on.

Your third album “This Is Hope” is a very different to “Loss” and “Us” and was recorded in the US. Did you feel you needed to try something different despite how well received the first two records were?
That’s an interesting question, I never really thought of it as different, it was also continuation. I always try not to make the same album again. I’m very fond of that album and am delighted it getting a reissue on vinyl as it didn’t the first time around. I also got to change the art to better reflect the album and its US origins. The reason for the ‘Loss’ title was because I’d recently lost my father suddenly, but it was just as much about community, islands, mainland… celebration of life. ‘Us’ was so named because of those who remained. ’This Is Hope’ was about reaching outwards and my wife is a New Yorker so by then I had toured and spent a lot of family time in the US. My brother-in-law, Mark Ghuneim, is an inspiring businessman/artist/photographer/curator and he had done a screen print with the word ‘Hope’ on it. Very simple but effective. I loved it. He gave it to me. And now it forms the inner circle of the TIH vinyl. Around that time then Obama came along and ‘hope’ was most definitely in the air.
I loved making the album in the U.S., upstate New York at the famous Bearsville Studios, owned by Albert Grossman, Bob Dylan’s manager. He also managed Janis Joplin and her mini was still in the garage! There were flying turkeys and I slept in the same room as Dylan and member of The Band had (Turtle Creek Studio). On the way I had visited New Orleans and met some amazing musicians, really soaked up the place, and also recorded 3 gospel singing sisters for the closing track ‘In The Next Life (A Requiem)’. It starts with them and ends with my grandmother, which was quite fitting in a way as the album was started in the Hebrides, took a stop in London, and then was made in America. The album was very focused in a way.
It also felt a bit like being at home… my Mull uncles are plumber-musicians and got me started, and at Bearsville, I was plagued with failed plumbing and they had to keep driving me to wash in other buildings… unfortunately the album budget didn’t extend to flying my uncles over… (but see later).

If you could only listen to one record, what would it be?
Not sure if you mean mine or somebody else’s?!

Somebody else’s: hmm, ‘After The Goldrush’ or ‘OK Computer’.

My own? Even more hmm… today it’s ‘Loss’.

After “This Is Hope”, you put MHS on hold and released a couple of albums under your name before reverting back to the band name again in 2012? Was there a reason you felt those albums should be separate from the MHS catalogue?
I just felt like coming out from behind the moniker for a while… MHS has always felt like an alter-ego to me. ’The Water’ could just as easily have been called an MHS album. It was great working with another producer for the first time in Nick Franglen (Lemon Jelly). ‘Island’ I made back on Mull, which was supposed to be an unplugged EP recorded with some pals and amazing musicians back home in An Tobar Arts Centres (my old school classroom) — but grew into an album. So it was a bit different. The intention was to leave the electricity on the mainland, so it is mostly acoustic. I fancied a choir one day and put a note in the Tobermory Co-op for folks to come by and they did, it really felt like being embraced by the community — one that still matters so much to me. I also got to record my uncle’s on that one. I returned to the MHS identity just because it felt like it fitted my musical identity. I wasn’t to know then that my own name would be for my author identity. Always there’s a plan we don’t quite know yet… always a puzzle.

You have a special performance planned for the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow. What can we expect to see in February?
I am playing ‘Loss’ and ‘Us’ in their entirety. I have a great band and strings. I will also do some on my own, as I wrote them in a sense. It will be a life-flashing-before-the-eyes journey I’m sure, but Glasgow is my second home and it has always been special to play there, and at Celtic Connections too, such a fun time in the city and I love Glasgow. I will also play the show in London, Manchester and elsewhere this year.

You’re also an award-winning author. How did you get into writing books for adults and children?
My grandfather was Mull’s bank manager and also a published poet all his life, still in print. He was known as the ‘Bard of Mull’ and lived above the shop. My uncle is also an author. So writing is as much a part of me as music. To be honest, I much prefer hearing about how authors work than musicians, though maybe that has been about learning the craft… I first started writing short stories on the tourbus and realised they came from the same ‘place’ as my music. Gradually characters and stories emerged that felt authentic. Many failed attempts later I was on a flight and wrote, ‘Dear President Obama, there were six eggs in the chicken coop this morning, two more than yesterday and four more than the day before. It’s official: you can tell your men the recession is showing signs of recover’. I had no idea who it was. Turned out to be a retired police sergeant from an island who had lost somebody and was grieving (loss again). He was Ivor Punch and he became part of the cast of my debut novel, ’The Letters of Ivor Of Punch’. And stage play. My new novel will be a crime book with him at the core. The children’s books are another place to tell stories and let your imagine fly really, often inspired by my children, and also the books they read as they grow.

What would go on your signature pizza and what would it be called?
Nduja sausage, caramelised  onions, rocket, parmesan. Glass of red.
It would be called ‘Mulled Pizza’.

What do you have planned for the rest of 2023?
New MHS album this summer (I’m really excited by it, it has a twist: collaborations with some of my fave authors). Basically I’m intrigued to discover more about how Elton works with Bernie…
More ‘Loss’ & ‘Us’ anniversary shows.
Summer festivals.
My first crime novel in October.
I also mentor and tutor songwriting BA students at a university and get lots back from that.
Lots of Mulled Pizza.

You can find out more about Mull Historical Society and the preorder the reissues at www.mullhistoricalsociety.com and get all the latest news on Instagram and Twitter.

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